St. Francis Brooklyn’s hopes of playing in the NEC tournament took a big blow on Thursday night with a home loss to Sacred Heart.
The Pioneers, who had been struggling offensively in NEC play, dominated the first half in building a 14-point lead and then led by as many as 21 in the second half as they closed out the victory. This was the first time in six games that SHU had broken 70 points in NEC play.
“We were not scoring enough points to win games,” said SHU head coach Anthony Latina. “We were defending well enough to be in those games, but not scoring enough, so we really focused on that and it paid off.”
The conference records may be the same, but the outlook for the two teams is quite different. St. Francis Brooklyn (4-14, 2-3 NEC) isn’t favored to win another game the rest of the season according to Ken Pomeroy. Sacred Heart (7-11, 2-3 NEC) scored 1.17 points per possession at the Pope Center. Pioneers still have a chance at rising up the NEC standings if the offense can perform near that level moving forward.
Here are three thoughts from the game.
This is the Quincy McKnight that can win games for the Pioneers. McKnight has struggled a bit offensively this season as the first option in the SHU attack. He got off to a slow start again on Thursday night, making just one of his first seven shots, but then he seemed to settle down. McKnight finished with 26 points on 8-19 shooting from the field and as many assists (2) as turnovers (2). Latina thought that McKnight forced the ball less, which helped him offensively. “He passed up a couple 1-on-3 drives, those are hard plays,” Latina said.
Latina also said that McKnight has been working hard to improve after struggling a bit in the middle of the season. “He evaluates himself as honestly as anyone I’ve ever had,” Latina said. “He knows he has not played up to his level of capability and he’s really tried to work on that.”
McKnight also got some help from Joe Lopez, who had struggled a bit after a monster opener (23 points and 16 rebounds) against Robert Morris in NEC play. Lopez was able to take advantage of the smaller Terriers on Thursday to score 21 points and grab 16 rebounds, including six on the offensive end.
“When your two best players get you an efficient 26 and an efficient 21 obviously that makes all the difference in the world,” Latina said. “The last couple games [McKnight] and [Lopez] have not played as well, and when they play that way we can beat anybody.”
An unexpected spark helped the Pioneers find their way. SHU scored just two points in the first four minutes of the game, but got a lift when Matej Buovac and Mario Matosevic came into the game. The inside-outside game of Buovac was especially problematic for the Terriers. He scored 12 of his 16 points in the first half, including two threes that really got the Pioneers going.
“He’s really been coming along,” Latina said about Buovac. “He’s really been playing with a bit more confidence.”
St. Francis Brooklyn’s big men just aren’t ready. Part of the reason Buovac was able to have such a strong game offensively is that the Terriers really don’t have a player who can guard him. Gunnar Olafsson and Keon Williams both give up three or four inches to the 6-foot-7 senior forward. Glenn Braica is extremely hesitant to play more than one of his inexperienced big men at any time and it cost the Terriers on the defensive end (though, to be fair, playing two would probably cost SFC on the offensive end just as much). Robert Montgomery showed some flashes early in the game, but was pulled after his first foul and ended up playing just 13 minutes. Neither Josh Nurse nor Jahmel Bodrick did much of anything in his place. The two of them combined to grab a total of four rebounds in 22 minutes.
The Terriers received about what you’d expect on a nightly basis from Yunus Hopkinson (16), Rasheem Dunn (18 and 9 rebounds) and Glenn Sanabria (13), but the defense just fell apart without an anchor in the middle. SFC needs to find one before the ship sails out to sea.